Late-March saw the release of 50 more in the series. Again issued in the original Japanese packaging the new titles include many not previously available on CD in the UK before. And here’s Kansas City-born singer Chris Connor, who died in the summer of 2009 aged 81, once more. She made her name in the 1950s with the Stan Kenton band, and after a spell with Bethlehem records signed to Atlantic and recorded more than a dozen albums for the label. A Portrait of Chris released in the first 1000 Yen batch was recorded in 1960. Witchcraft (recorded in September and October 1959) is just a little earlier and equally worth your time especially if you’re a vintage big band fan as it finds Connor with a lively rough-at-the-edges big band conducted and arranged by Richard Wess who demonstrate real oomph on the title track, which opens the album. Then on ‘I'll Never Be Free’ Connor moves more into Peggy Lee territory, and yet maybe the band could be a bit more subtle here. But ‘The Lady Sings The Blues’, with a sensual Hank Jones piano introduction, is quite delicious Connor responding tenderly and not a little sadly.
‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, still a favourite of singers covered just last year highly effectively on her latest record by new singing star Georgia Mancio, is smooth and silky but you’re not really looking to Connor for smoothness (Ella’s better for that). Instead it’s that implicit but never quite delivered darkness concealed within the vapours of the American dream of the 1950s that Connor hints at again and again, and mainly in a Peggy Lee way again conveys tantalisingly on ‘When Sunny Gets Blue.’
The jolly ‘I Hear the Music Now’ belongs more to the fun side of the album, and there’s plenty of band fever too on ‘Baltimore Oriole’ Connor perking up as the horn section wails bluesily in its opening section before the big fat bass beat walks the tune onwards. Forget about the version of ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ is, however, slightly disappointing at the end, Connors’ optimism infusing the song a little inappropriately and the band playing far too fast. But Witchcraft, particularly the first half dozen tunes, is a must. Stephen Graham
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